3-12-2017 Second Sunday of Lent
Mar 13, 2017
Lent II / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The Transfiguration—on this second Sunday of Lent we read Mt’s account of the Transfiguration. This reading has always fascinated me—it’s mysterious, haunting, elusive. It hides as much as it reveals. Even the name, "the Transfiguration," has a numinous sound. So what is it—and what is Mt telling us about Jesus (and us) in his account? Let’s take a look.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. By now, we are familiar with mountains in the Scripture: places of encounter, where God touches earth and we touch heaven. In other words, we have moved "above the ordinary," into the spiritual realm, where God and humanity converse. We call these moments "peak experiences," or "liminal moments" (to the threshold), and most of us have probably experienced them. For a short time—and these moments are usually brief—everything comes together, we "see" and we "get it." It is a moment of illumination, of insight, of unexpected joy. As the blind man says in a couple of weeks, "I was blind, but now I see."
On this mountain, Jesus is transfigured. A better reading of the Greek would be metamorphosis—to change or to move beyond the form (e.g., in science: a caterpillar into butterfly, a tadpole into a frog, a larva into an insect). In our reading the symbol of this transformation is light: "Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light." The form of Jesus is present, but he has moved into a "new key," a transfigured form. Think of the transformation of a square in 2D into a cube in 3D; or a triangle in 2D into a pyramid in 3D. The form is present, but it is greatly enhanced. It is the Lord, but something more. It is the Transfigured Lord.
If this reminds us of the Resurrection, there is a good reason for it. The scene of the Transfiguration comes shortly after Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah and the prediction that Jesus must suffer, die, and rise from the dead. The disciples did not understand this, and they were afraid and discouraged and anxious. So Jesus gives them
a glimpse of who he is—a vision of his divine majesty that would be fully revealed at the Resurrection. To inspire them. To give them hope. To keep them going.
Adding to the beauty and the mystery of the scene are Moses and Elijah. The American equivalent of this might be George Washington and Abraham Lincoln appearing beside us. Two great names out of the past, two individuals who sum up who we are. Moses and Elijah function in the same way—they sum up the great tradition of Israel, the Law and the Prophets, now in conversation with Jesus. Remember his words: "I have come, not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them." In Jesus, the hope of Israel is fulfilled.
But the ultimate stamp of approval comes from God: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." The words spoken at the Baptism of Jesus, now repeated as he is about to undergo another Baptism.
God then gives a command, for all of us: "Listen to him." As the Letter to the Hebrews says, "In times past, God to spoke to us in fragmentary ways"—through the Law, through the prophets, through nature, through all the saints and sinners of the OT. But now, in these last days, "God has spoken to us through his Son." Listen to him.
As we come together here, we listen—and, like Peter, James, and John, we fall prostrate before this mystery; and we recognize the Glory of God shining on the face of Jesus. To us, and to Peter, James, and John, the Lord bids us "Rise, and do not be afraid."
May the risen and transfigured Lord give us the grace of conversion, guide us through this Lenten season, and fill us all with the joy of the Gospel.